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Signal Intel: Don’t Ask About The Defense, and other notes on Portland Timbers

Without Schweinsteiger or McCarty, Fire hoping to keep unbeaten run going

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Chicago Fire Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Will Conwell of Stumptown Footy was kind enough to answer our questions in advance of tonight’s game in Portland - thanks, Will!

Hot Time: What twists of fate have brought us a centerback pairing of Lawrence Olum and Roy Miller - is it injuries, or did Merritt Paulson lose a bet? And Diego Chara's missing, too? Discuss the Timbers defensive woes.

Stumptown Footy: Liam Ridgewell is out injured.

Diego Chara is out injured.

Gbenga Arokoyo is out injured.

Amobi Okugo is out injured.

Jack Barmby is out injured.

David Guzman has been called up by Costa Rica.

Alvas Powell has been called up by Jamaica.

Darren Mattocks has been called up by Jamaica.

New acquisition Larrys Mabiala can't play for the Timbers until the transfer window opens.

The Timbers just fired their head athletic trainer.

All this leaves the Timbers with fifteen field players available, one above the number needed to allow for emergency call-ups from their USL side, T2. Of course, numbered in that 15 are guys like Chance Myers, who has just recently recovered from an injury, and center back prospect Rennico Clarke, who despite not being injured has not made the 18 for the first team or T2 since getting pulled from the Timbers' US Open Cup loss to the Seattle Sounders just under a month ago.

The Timbers defense has truly been gutted by absences. The same back line has rarely made multiple appearances in a row and keeping the same back six has been even more of a rarity.

So, yeah, Paulson probably lost a bet. [ed: Salty!]

HT: We've seen this Portland attack enough over the years for the main components to become familiar - Adi's powerful hold-up play, Nagbe patiently knitting possession together, Valeri swooping in to do something magical. We're less familiar with guys like Sebastian Blanco and Dairon Asprilla - how are the complementary players in the attack performing in 2017?

SF: In the attack the Timbers have been little more fortunate when it comes to absences. Sure, each of the team's big names have missed a game here and there, but for the most part Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri, and Fanendo Adi have been showing up regularly for the Timbers. Unfortunately, since the team's explosive start to the season, the Timbers's attack has been less coherent and less able to carry the team through their prolonged defensive issues.

What makes this all the more frustrating is that the pieces are in place for the Timbers' attack to be, as we saw early in the season, one of the league's best.

While many of the Timbers' recent attacking struggles stem from the lack of a solid base to play off of on defense, just as many have come from the side's difficulty in integrating their fourth attacker -- whoever that might be. New arrival Sebastian Blanco brings many of the same qualities to the table as Nagbe, melding Nagbe's technical play and desire to cut inside from the wing with a less risk-averse, more attacking mindset. Dairon Asprilla, meanwhile, is a rarity for the Timbers: an out and out winger. Asprilla, unlike Nagbe or Blanco, will stick to the flank, send in crosses, and look to bully full backs with his physical presence, even if his speed of play is sometimes not quite where Timbers fans wish it was.

When Blanco is the Timbers' fourth attacker, the side tends to get narrow, relying on their full backs for width as Nagbe, Valeri, and Blanco all float into the center channel below Adi.

When Asprilla is the Timbers' fourth, the Timbers generally present a lopsided attacking front, channeling the ball down the right and overloading the box from the left, giving the side a similar look in the attack to the group that won the MLS Cup in 2015.

Of course, given the Timbers' injury issues Nagbe will almost certainly be pulled back into a central midfield role alongside 4th or 5th string holding midfielder Ben Zemanski, meaning that the Fire will be facing both Blanco and Asprilla in the Timbers' midfield. Because of Blanco's positional similarity to Nagbe, expect things to look just as lopsided. Asprilla will attack down the right, Vytas will overlap down the left, and Blanco, Valeri, and Adi will look to make magic happen in the middle.

HT: What's the general feeling about Caleb Porter in Portland at this point?

SF: There is grumbling from some. But there is always grumbling from some. It is just a little bit more insistent right now.

At the end of the day, Porter is a highly respected coach who has dealt with some real and measurable personnel issues this year. While he is not untouchable, at this point in the season Porter definitely still has some slack with which to work, both from the fans and the front office.

You can catch my answers to Will’s questions over on Stumptown Footy.